EARLY LIFE: the grandson of slaves
Born to a family of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South a little over twenty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Lead Belly’s start was humble. As a boy, he helped his parents–Wesley and Sally Ledbetter–work the land as a sharecropper on a Louisiana plantation, while his uncle Terrell introduced him to music as early as two years old. He learned a number of different instruments, including the accordion, mandolin, piano, and the 12-string guitar with which he later used to carve out his legacy. At the tender age of 12, he then left home and began his storied music career–playing “sukey jumps” and “juke joints” on weekends to support himself as he wandered the Deep South.